Romancing the roman ruins
Sitting still on a long flight from Delhi via Dubai to Rome made me grimace and gave me a queer feeling, but I was hoping to cheer up by taking a walk as soon as I landed in Rome, to the most iconic, ancient structure that represents this romantic, vibrant city – the Colosseum. And by the time I finally reached the colossal Colosseum with my camera, the sun had set and the twilight shadows and night lights created a dreamy effect.
The Colosseum, a truly gigantic stone amphitheatre, could accommodate nearly 60,000 spectators at any given time and witnessed ancient gladiatorial combats with dangerous animals, where men fought each other to death. The Arch of Constantine, a huge, handsomely decorated 4th-century triumphal arch erected by Emperor Constantine, stands next to it. Few cities can rival Rome's astonishing artistic heritage.
Throughout history, the city has starred in the great upheavals of Western art, drawing the top artists of the day and inspiring them to push the boundaries of creative achievement. The result is a city awash with priceless treasures. Ancient statues adorn world-class museums, Byzantine mosaics and Renaissance frescoes dazzle in the city's art-rich churches, baroque facades flank medieval piazzas. Walk around the centre and without even trying you'll come across masterpieces by the giants of the artistic pantheon – sculptures by Michelangelo, canvases by Caravaggio, Raphael frescoes and fountains by Bernini.
Even after 2700 years, the city that is lovingly called "Roma" is always captivating and throbbing with life. Considered the most beautiful city in the world, Italians call it "la Città Eterna", the Eternal City. Next day, as the weather was balmy and enchanting, with delicate effects of dappled sunlight playing on tree-lined streets, I preferred to take the hop-on-hop-off double-decker buses that run through town. Sitting on the open deck gives you splendid views of the city as the bus meanders all around the sightseeing spots in town.
The result of 3000 years of ad hoc urban development, Rome's cityscape is an exhilarating spectacle. Besides ancient icons such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Pantheon recall Rome's time as the fearsome hub of the Roman Empire, the caput mundi (capital of the world), while catacombs and clandestine churches hark back to the early days of Christianity. Lording it over the Vatican, St Peter's Basilica is the greatest of the city's monumental basilicas, a towering masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Elsewhere, ornate piazzas, magnificent palaces, elaborate churches and ancient temples add a baroque flourish to the city's historic streets. I greedily took in its bridges, graceful fountains and spectacular gardens.
Eating out is one of Rome's great pleasures and the combination of romantic al fresco settings and the superlative food is a guarantee of good times. For contemporary fine dining and five-star wine there are any number of refined restaurants, but for a truly Roman meal, search out the city's boisterous pizzerias and convivial neighbourhood trattorias. These are where the locals go to dine with friends and indulge their passion for thin, crispy pizzas, humble but delicious pasta, and cool white wine from the nearby Castelli Romani hills.
Originally built on seven striking hills along the banks of the River Tiber, Rome now is a city of over three million people and thousands of tourists. The Roman Forum, a centre of political, commercial, and judicial life in ancient Rome, is filled with striking architectural ruins. The Capitoline Museums, housed in palaces surrounding an elegant square designed by Michelangelo, include such remarkable, ancient works of art as a large, lifelike, equestrian statue in bronze and the famous ancient Greek statue of the she-wolf.
According to legend, this wolf nurtured Romulus and Remus, the two brothers who founded Rome. The nearby magnificent Spanish Steps, which overlook a fountain, are a popular place to sit and observe Roman life, as local people and tourists mingle and while away the time. The Roman Republic was credited with some brilliant innovations that are still in use today all over the world, like its famed Aqueducts for distributing water resources and the creation of concrete, a material that results in long-lasting constructions. Newspapers and bound books were made popular, as it was the best way for the king to communicate with the public. A profound sense of grandeur was created by building wide boulevards connecting Rome with surrounding areas.
In the centre of modern Rome, there are numerous high-end designer boutiques with stunning window displays, that shoppers will find hard to resist. Shopping streets in other areas of the city also offer chic fashions at more affordable prices. Best buys include leather goods of all kinds - jackets, shoes, and bags, ready-to-wear Italian clothes, antiques, and art. A trip to Rome is as much about lapping up the dolce vita lifestyle as gorging on art and culture. It's about relaxing into the city's Mediterranean rhythms and idling around the picturesque streets. Whiling away hours at streetside cafes and people-watching on pretty piazzas are an integral part of the Roman experience. The tempo rises as the heat of the day fades into the evening cool and the fashionably dressed aperitivo (aperitif) crowd descends on the city's bars and cafes. Restaurants and trattorias hum with activity and cheerful hordes mill around popular haunts before heading off to cocktail bars and late-night clubs.
To see Rome one needs at least seven days, with a whole day fully devoted to its numerous museums and their fabulous collection of Roman art and another day to the Vatican. As they say, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," so eat, drink, and be merry in this grand city not overwhelmed by its own greatness.